The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower
I read “The Hour of Peril” primarily because I was interested in learning more about how Abraham Lincoln responded to this crises and in hopes of gathering more Lincoln stories and quotes.
The book actually focuses on famed detective, Allan Pinkerton, and how he foiled the plot to kill Lincoln before he could be sworn into office. In fact, the book relates the whole life story of Pinkerton Perhaps a more apt book title would be “Allan Pinkerton and the Secret Plot to Kill Lincoln.”
I was not completely disappointed, as I did come across five interesting anecdotes about Lincoln that satisfied my longing.
1) The “Slow Horse” Story
At a whistle stop in Thornton, Indiana, Lincoln came to the rear platform of the train and apologized for not having time to deliver his stump speech. He launched into an anecdote about an aspiring politician who owned a sluggish but sure-footed horse. “The horse was so confoundedly slow, however,” he said, but just at this moment – before Lincoln could deliver his punch line – the train lurched away from the depot, cutting him off in mid-sentence.
At the next stop along the line, in Lebanon, Lincoln found that some of his supporters from Thorntown had chased the train and were “panting to hear the conclusion of the story.” Lincoln cheerfully took up where he had left off, explaining the he himself shared the dilemma of the owner of the plodding horse. If he stopped at every station to make a stump speech, he would not arrive in Washington until the inauguration was over.
2) “Lincoln Shows Endurance of Bronze Statures”
In some towns where Lincoln’s train passed, men would line up to shake his hand, with the result that his fingers would be sore and swollen. According to John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary: “From what I saw of the President’s coolness under the infliction of several thousand hand-shakings I should say that he unites the courage of Andrew Jackson and the sensibility to physical suffering which is usually assigned to bronze statues.”
3) “Hydrologic Embraces”
Following the first day on the train, a group of Springfield friends took leave of Lincoln to return home. After much melodramatic hugging, they went on their way. Afterwards, Lincoln commented that he was not entirely convinced of the desirability of this preponderance of “hydraulic embraces.”
4) “The Lincoln Formula”
In the interest of keeping the train schedule, Lincoln’s trackside routine had been honed to a concise formula. Here is how Joseph Howard of the New York Times summarized the procedure: “Crowds – enthusiasm – little speech – little bow – kissed little girl – God-blessed old man – recognized old friend – much affected.”
5) “Mutually Surpassed Each Other”
In New York City, Lincoln received a pair of new hats from rival manufacturers, and diplomatically avoided expressing a preference between the two, by affirming: “They mutually surpassed each other.”
While I would have preferred more anecdotes about Lincoln himself, “The Hour of Peril” still told a fascinating story.